Ottawa Citizen

‘One of the best in the world’

Chris­tine Sin­clair named Canada’s fe­male ath­lete of the year

- LORI EWING

TORONTO • Lit­tle about Chris­tine Sin­clair’s bril­liant per­for­mance at the Lon­don Olympics came as a sur­prise to her team­mates.

But it al­lowed the rest of the world to fi­nally see the cap­tain they all know so well.

The 29-year-old star of Canada’s women’s soc­cer team lifted her squad to a bronze medal at last sum­mer’s Olympics, Canada’s first medal in a tra­di­tional team sport since 1936. The re­sult firmly en­trenched her as a Cana­dian sports hero and brought global ac­claim to a player who has been among the best women on the planet for years.

It also capped a tremen­dous sea­son that earned the Burn­aby, B.C., na­tive the Bob­bie Rosen­feld Award as The Cana­dian Press fe­male ath­lete of 2012.

“She’s al­ways been one of the best in the world, she’s al­ways been fan­tas­tic, and what’s great about this year is that the world got to see her at the high­est stage — the Olympics,” said Canada’s veteran goal­keeper Ka­rina LeBlanc. “The world was watch­ing and she showed what we’ve all known for so long.

“Peo­ple are start­ing to see all sides of her — her funny side and her hum­ble side. She’s a phe­nom­e­nal ath­lete. And she be­lieves so much. Play­ing for Canada is such an hon­our, and she shows that in the way she plays. She doesn’t go out there and talk the talk ... She shows it in the most beau­ti­ful way.”

Sin­clair earned 269 points, in­clud­ing the ma­jor­ity of first-place votes (84), to run away with the award, which is de­ter­mined through bal­lot­ing among sports edi­tors and broad­cast­ers across the coun­try.

Olympic tram­po­line cham­pion Rosie MacLen­nan was sec­ond with 118 points ahead of speed­skater Chris­tine Nes­bitt (76), ten­nis player Eu­ge­nie Bouchard (30) and hockey player Caro­line Ouel­lette (27).

“It’s a huge hon­our,” Sin­clair said, de­flect­ing praise to her team­mates as deftly as she de­liv­ers a pass.

“I’m proud of our team. We had a goal this year head­ing into the Olympics and that was to bring home a medal and we ac­com­plished that. Just to sort of see the way Canada fell in love with our team, it’s been very re­mark­able.”

Sin­clair, who has won nearly ev­ery ath­lete of year award in Canada this month, led her team to bronze in Lon­don in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion, scor­ing an Olympic-record six goals to win the Golden Boot. Sin­clair recorded a hat trick in a con­tro­ver­sial 4-3 ex­tra-time semi­fi­nal loss to the U.S., and then lashed out at the of­fi­ci­at­ing, which seemed to en­dear her even more to frus­trated fans watch­ing back home.

“Chris­tine Sin­clair is Canada’s best soc­cer player,” said Phil An­drews of the Guelph Mer­cury. “What a passionate leader. What a clutch per­former. What an in­spi­ra­tion to the thou­sands of youths play­ing soc­cer in Canada and dream­ing of be­ing a star at an in­ter­na­tional level. She was the big­gest story at the Olympics for Canada this year.”

Cy­clist Ry­der Hes­jedal of Vic­to­ria won the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s male ath­lete of the year Wed­nes­day.

Sin­clair scored a Cana­di­an­record 23 goals in 2012, and added six as­sists, mean­ing she contribute­d to 65.9 per cent of her team’s scor­ing in 2012. Her 143 ca­reer in­ter­na­tional goals rank third all-time.

The sea­son was a re­mark­able turn­around for the five­foot-nine player with the sweet scor­ing touch. Only a year ear­lier, Canada was ousted in the pre­lim­i­nary round of the women’s World Cup.

Coach John Herd­man, hired to pick up the pieces af­ter their heart­break­ing World Cup re­sult, used a photo of Canada’s dis­con­so­late cap­tain, head in hands, her face con­torted in de­spair and dashed hopes, as mo­ti­va­tion for his play­ers head­ing into Lon­don.

“When you look at Chris­tine’s face in that pic­ture, it wasn’t just dis­ap­point­ment, it was frus­tra­tion, it was an­guish, it was guilt, it was a lit­tle bit of shame as well,” said Herd­man. “I told them, ‘I never want to see a player with this sort of tal­ent with this sort of love for the game feel­ing like this af­ter any game they play for Canada.’”

He’s since added a much hap­pier photo of a cry­ing Sin­clair on her knees on the pitch, her arms raised in ju­bi­la­tion af­ter Canada’s bronzemeda­l vic­tory over France.

“I emailed that around the team and I said, ‘I think we promised we’d make Sincy cry, and this time for the right rea­sons,’” Herd­man said.

Sin­clair is the first soc­cer player to win the Bob­bie Rosen­feld Award, orig­i­nally awarded in 1933 and named for the Olympic cham­pion and all-around ath­lete who was voted Canada’s top fe­male ath­lete for the first half of the 20th cen­tury.

Herd­man com­pares her to a Rolls-Royce — be­cause she’s all class. He’s said she could be the David Beck­ham of the women’s game be­cause of her smart soc­cer mind. He likes to tell the story of how when she emails him about a par­tic­u­lar trip, she al­ways adds “if se­lected” in brack­ets.

Sin­clair, true to form, heaps all the praise for the team’s success this past sea­son on Herd­man.

“He brought back this con­fi­dence and be­lief within us, had the veteran play­ers learn­ing new things and ex­cited to play, and we all bought into his sys­tem and his style,” Sin­clair said.

One might not think a veteran such as Sin­clair would have many new things to learn, but she points to Herd­man’s “grow room” — a soc­cer com­puter lab of sorts with six lap­tops so play­ers can watch footage of their per­for­mance in prac­tice and games — as an ex­am­ple.

“A big thing for me is watch­ing my­self in prac­tice,” said Sin­clair. “It’s one thing to watch your­self in games, but day in and day out what you do in prac­tice is what makes a dif­fer­ence and we’d never ex­pe­ri­enced that be­fore.”

 ?? JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ??
JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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